More than a decade after Greater Good first started reporting on the science of compassion, generosity, happiness—what we call “the science of a meaningful life”—the research in our field is acquiring ever more nuance and sophistication. New studies build on and even re-interpret findings from previous years, particularly as their authors use more exacting methods, with bigger and broader data sets, and consider additional factors to explain prior results.
These nuances are clearly reflected in this year’s list of our Top 10 Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life—the fourth such list compiled by Greater Good’s editors. Indeed, many of this year’s entries could be described as “Yes, but” insights: Yes, as prior findings suggest, being wealthy seems to make people less generous, but only when they reside in places with high inequality. Yes, pursuing happiness makes you unhappy, but only if you live in an individualistic culture. Yes, Americans are less happy than they used to be, but only if they’re over the age of 30. The caveats and qualifications abound.
And these are not just signs of academic hair splitting. Instead, they demonstrate that researchers are sharpening their understanding of the actual causes, consequences, and current state of humans’ social and emotional well-being. And that, in turn, means that Greater Good is able to report on the practical implications and potential applications of this research with greater confidence and detail than ever before.
Smell yourself happy. True, happy people smell better.